Following a pair of viral videos posted to social media and a lawsuit against Sesame Place, the amusement park has released a plan to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
On Tuesday, the Langhorne, Pennsylvania park announced actions that will include "comprehensive racial equity assessment, anti-bias training and education program, and enhancements to DE&I program." They said the efforts will be "overseen and conducted by nationally recognized experts."
"Sesame Place today announced a series of initiatives as part of an expansion of its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion," Sesame Place said in a statement. "Initiatives include a comprehensive racial equity assessment, the development and implementation of an anti-bias training and education program, and enhancements to ensure a best-in-class diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) program. This work will be overseen by national experts."
According to the plan, "the racial equity assessment will include a review of policies, processes, and practices that impact guests, employees, suppliers, and the community to identify opportunities for improvement," engaging with internal and external stakeholders.
After the assessment wraps, experts will remain involved in order to "monitor" the park's "progress toward established goals."
By the end of September, Sesame Place said all employees will take part in a "training and education program designed to address bias, promote inclusion, prevent discrimination, and ensure all guests and employees feel safe and welcome."
Beyond the training for existing employees, the park said it will now be included in onboarding for new employees as well as become "a regular part of our training and workforce development."
Cathy Valeriano, President of Sesame Place Philadelphia, said they have already implemented "some interim measures at the park" amid their review.
"The actions we are taking will help us deliver on our promise to provide an equitable and inclusive experience for all our guests every day," Valeriano said. "We are committed to making sure our guests feel welcome, included and enriched by their visits to our park."
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The announcement comes weeks after a video of an encounter at the Philadelphia theme park went viral on Instagram, showing the character Rosita seeming to dismiss two young Black girls by waving her hands and walking away, after high-fiving other visitors along the parade route.
Two days later, another park goer shared a similar encounter on Instagram of Rosita brushing off a greeting from his excited daughter, who is also Black.
"The character went out of their way to change course and Immediately after hugged and took a pic with a little white girl," the father wrote.
About a week after the July videos were posted, a $25 million dollar lawsuit was filed against SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, the parent company of Sesame Place, after another family claimed four costumed characters deliberately ignored their daughter and other Black visitors.
Jeff Chiu/AP/Shutterstock Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA
The incident occurred during a meet-and-greet event at Sesame Place Philadelphia, a Sesame Street-themed amusement park where Quinton Burns and his family paid to have one-on-one interactions with Elmo, Ernie, Telly Monster and Abby Cadabby. The four employees portraying the characters, referred to in the lawsuit as John Does 1-4, allegedly snubbed his daughter after giving explicit attention to white visitors.
The class action lawsuit was filed in Pennsylvania federal court on July 27 and holds Burns as a representative of other families who came forward after they said they experienced similar situations at the park.
According to the allegations in the complaint, Sesame Place employers had prior knowledge that the four costumed characters who met with the Burns family and others held "racial bias towards Black people" and therefore these issues were "foreseeable."
At the time of the filing, a Sesame Place representative said the park was reviewing the lawsuit and "looking forward to" addressing its claims. They also stated, "We are committed to deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience for all our guests."
Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, also addressed the incident in a statement on Twitter and said that the situation was being investigated.
"Sesame Workshop is aware of the recent incident at Sesame Place Philadelphia, which we take very seriously," it began. "What these children experienced is unacceptable."
The release continued in part explaining, "We have been in contact with Sesame Place, our licensed park partner, and they have assured us that they will conduct bias training and a thorough review of the ways in which they engage with families and guests."
Sesame Place also shared a statement following the incident, which is now pinned on their Twitter page, writing, "We sincerely apologize to the family for their experience in our park on Saturday; we know that it's not OK. We are taking actions to do better."
It continued, "We are committed to making this right. We will conduct training for our employees so they better understand, recognize and deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience to our guests. For over 40 years Sesame Place has worked to uphold the values of respect, inclusion and belonging. We are committed to doing a better job making children and families feel special, seen and included when they come to our parks."